A viral hashtag has women sharing stories of the first time they were catcalled
Catcalling is a disturbing part of every woman’s reality, but a new viral hashtag proves the problem starts way earlier than most people think.
Huffington Post writer Alanna Vagianos recently started “#FirstTimeIWasCatcalled” after reading an interview with Girl Meets World star Rowan Blanchard, in which the 14-year-old revealed she was catcalled for the first time at the tender age of 12. Blanchard told Interview magazine:
“I remember I was at a movie with my friend, and we were both in skirts… We were waiting outside the movies for my dad to pick us up, and this grown man came over and was like, ‘You guys need a ride anywhere?’ I was 12 years old and my friend was 15… I always see girls getting catcalled. But up until that point, I hadn’t experienced it. And it was like I was out-of-body for a second.”
In an essay for Huffpost Women, Vagianos says the quote inspired her to open up about her experience being catcalled by two grown men when she was walking to school at age 16. “I still remember feeling every inch of my body burn hot with shame as I felt their eyes on me,” writes Vagianos. She says she started #FirstTimeIWasCatcalled because she “wanted to know if other women felt the same way Blanchard and I did the first time we were catcalled.”
A quick search of the hashtag on Twitter reveals hundreds of responses — seriously it will make your stomach turn. Women are revealing stories about being catcalled for the first time as young as seven or eight years old. Here are just a few of their stories:
#FirstTimeIwasCatCalled I was 13. A man who looked about 40 asked me "How much does that ass cost?" It was terrifying and I felt disgusting.
— Kels (@GraceInSerenity) April 1, 2016
— Joan Marie (@happinessnwrath) March 30, 2016
#FirstTimeIWasCatcalled I was 13. I was wearing my favorite dress. A guy commented on how pretty it was and asked if I wanted a kiss.
— Mazer Rackham (@FlintStitch) April 1, 2016
to eat hot dogs. The only thing that saved us was the dog was a Great Dane and got mad. In fact, that is why I own a Dane today. (2/2)
— Erin (@NappingPlatypus) March 31, 2016
Reading through these stories took me back to my own childhood, back to sixth grade. My locker broke, and there weren’t any others available in the designated area for my grade, so I was reassigned to a locker in the dreaded “eighth grade hallway.” My new locker was beside an older boy who delighted in harassing me by asking me invasive sexual questions every day — are you a virgin, do you know how to give a blow job, would you like it if I touched your boobs.
I spent a semester next to that kid, and I still remember the dread I felt every single time I had to go near my locker, and how afraid I was to tell anyone lest the harassment get worse. It might not fit the traditional definition of a catcall, but that was the first time I ever felt that kind of burning shame, and just recalling it made me realize that catcalling and harassment can happen to my own daughter way sooner than I want to believe.
A survey by Hollaback and Cornell University revealed 85% of US women experience street harassment before the age of 17, and 67% of women report experiencing it before age 14. As Vagianos put it in her Huffpost Women essay, “Women are forced to deal with this harassment at such a young age that it becomes a normal right of passage.” That’s completely unacceptable.
No one likes to think of their daughters being harassed, but these stories are proof that it happens, and that it’s a conversation parents and their children need to have. We have to let boys know that this behavior is not okay, and we have to tell our daughters that it’s never, ever their fault if it happens, and they don’t have to be afraid to speak out. We have to educate our kids and prepare them for the world, so hopefully they will never be made to feel as confused and ashamed as we once did.